Disneyland Resort in Anaheim - July 17, 2002 trip report (including Catal restaurant review)


For the past few years now, I have been at Disneyland for its birthday on July 17, whether it's a weekday or weekend day.  Even if there are no spectacular festivities planned, it's still nice to be there, and it's especially a treat to take a weekday off and just be at DL.  This year, July 17 fell on a Wednesday, and I got to the resort at about 9:40am.  After making my way into the park, I stopped by Showcase on Main Street and picked up a couple of the DL birthday pins.  I then stopped off at the Main Street lockers to put away some goodies that I'd brought with me into the park for later.  After a bit more browsing, I went to the bakery, got a muffin and some coffee and spent some time on the porch.  The porch had been one of my favorite relaxing places, particularly earlier in the morning, but it's not something I've done in a while.  It's a great place to sit, relax, have some breakfast, read or just watch the people who have just entered Disneyland.  For a people-watching spot, it just can't be beat because everyone enters and exits through that corridor.  It's a great spot from which to watch the diversity of people who visit Disneyland, to listen to snippets of their conversation as they talk about what they want to do first, what they're most eager to see and to just witness how excited they are to be there.  And of course, the porch is a great vantage point from which to watch the fashion show that parades by.  I sat there reading for a while as I was enjoying my breakfast, until and two friends who were in town for the birthday came over.  They stood and talked with me for a while, and just as they were about to leave, two other friends came by to say hello.  I hadn't seen these two in quite some time, so it was nice to be able to catch up with them a bit.  The porch is also a nice place to sit because everyone can see you as well and friends can stop by for a visit.  I know that every time I pass by the porch, I always look over to see if there's anyone there I know, and I know that in the past, there have been many occasions when I've been joined by friends while sitting on the porch.


I had heard about the birthday ceremony in Town Square at 11:45, and there had even been announcements made during the time I spent on the porch, so at about 11:35, I packed up and headed over to Town Square.  There was already quite a crowd gathered there, so I got as close as I could to the podium and waited.  It was a very nice day out, but fairly warm with clear skies, so the heat got to be a bit much during the wait and through the ceremony.  The VIPs were soon let in to their reserved seating and then the Disneyland Resort ambassador came out to introduce Cynthia Harris.  After a few words, Cynthia then introduced Danny Rodriguez, who many people may know as the New York City Fire Department fireman with the incredible voice that many heard during one of the televised tributes to the victims of September 11th.  Danny came out singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" with Belle and Cinderella by his side.  After the song, Cynthia had a lot of nice things to say about Danny, and after her speech, she said that there was also going to be a special presentation to Danny from the Disneyland security, fire and safety departments.  They were awarding him and the NYPD with their highest honor, in service of others, which marked the first time the award had been presented to someone other than a Disney cast member.  Leading the march of security, fire and safety members to make the presentation was Mickey Mouse himself, and Danny seemed genuinely excited about having Mickey there.  It was so wonderful to watch.  The presentation itself brought Danny to tears, and figuring he was going to be singing another song, I wondered how he was going to recover and get through that.  But he certainly did.  Danny sang "America the Beautiful" spectacularly.  It was wonderful to be standing at Disneyland on a wonderful summer day listening and watching all of this, with Cynthia and Mickey standing together looking on.  After the song, Cynthia made a few more comments and then the ceremony ended.  I know some people feel that a full-blown celebration needs to be held every year, but I'm not of that opinion.  On the "off years" (i.e., non-milestone), I like the low-key ceremonies, and this year, having Danny Rodriguez there was just amazing.


Everyone stayed around for the multitude of pictures being taken, and for some inexplicable reason, Anthony Hopkins was up there as well.  He hadn't done anything during the ceremony, so I wasn't sure why he was there at all, but it was still cool to see him.  I hadn't expected to see him in his big cowboy hat though!  Danny must have been there for hours because even later in the day, the times when I walked by Town Square, he was still there giving interviews and having his picture taken, and he was still smiling the whole time.


After the ceremony, I ran into some friends and talked to them for a while before I left to wander the park a bit.  Trying to decide on where to have lunch, I wandered by various restaurants, including Rancho del Zocalo.  It's been some time since I've eaten there, and that always saddens me.  Rancho's predecessor, Casa Mexicana, had been one of my favorite dining places, someplace I went back to no less than once every two weeks.  I was also a fan of Big Thunder Barbeque.  Since the change-over to Rancho, however, which purports to combine some menu items from both restaurants, I'd been very disappointed.  The Mexican fare that Rancho offered wasn't close to what Casa had, and though I'd not tried the barbeque side of Rancho, the offerings were again different from what Big Thunder BBQ had, so we've not been back for probably a year or more.  I went by and looked at the menu and noticed that they're offering a new entree, enchiladas and tacos, which looks kind of interesting, so I may give that a try in the future.  Though I had the opportunity to go anywhere for lunch since I was alone, I ended up for various reasons at Whitewater Cafe at the Grand Californian.  It's probably not a well-known eatery, but those who know about it love it.  They have a limited menu, but what they do offer is very good and very well priced.  I've generally gotten a cheeseburger there, which is made fresh when it is ordered and comes with french fries.  My husband and other friends really like the french dip there.  I had a nice relaxing lunch there and then headed over to the lobby of the Grand Californian.  I'd brought some reading material with me, so I sat in the air-conditioned lobby in one of the comfy chairs and read for a while.


At about 3:15, I packed up and headed back into DL for the 3:30 birthday celebration at Plaza Inn that I was attending, in celebration of DL's birthday and a friend's upcoming birthday.  I knew it was going to be fun, but I'd been told that we'd have a special visitor to our birthday celebration, so I was looking forward to it even more.  After first stopping at the Main Street lockers to retrieve some items, I met my group in front of Plaza Inn, and after checking in, our group of about 40 was let in along with the other people who had 3:30 reservations.  As we entered the sectioned-off area, they handed us party hats, which are Sorcerer Mickey hats with Mickey ears and the words "Happy Birthday" on the hat.  We gathered at adjoining tables, waiting for the festivities to begin.  I'd brought some party favors, so I handed those out, along with special treats for the birthday girl.  I'd brought extras of the party favors, but apparently, even more people than I had anticipated came to the party, so I think I ran out before I got to everyone.  Sorry to those I might have missed.  The Plaza Inn party started with the host Pat E. Cake who sings songs and leads everyone along.  We were given small sipper cups with punch, and the sipper cups have the Happy Birthday logo with Sorcerer Mickey and the Disneyland Resort logo.  Very cute.  They then brought out individual birthday cakes for each of us using the Mousekemeal Mickey plastic plate.  The cake was in the bigger circle, and one ear had three cups of frosting (yellow, red and blue, I think - I forget exactly), and the other ear had other candy decorations, including colored sprinkles, mini M&Ms and little confetti candy shaped into Mickey heads!  Those were so cute.  Everyone was invited to decorate their individual cakes.  Once everyone was done and enjoying their cakes, CMs came around offering more punch or water.  They also passed out birthday stickers and birthday buttons, but instead of the normal birthday buttons, they actually passed out the DL birthday buttons that CMs were wearing, which says "Disneyland park and I are celebrating a birthday today!  July 17, 2002".  I thought that was very cool.  [Correction added later:  birthday buttons are not normally given out.  The person celebrating a birthday gets the same birthday sticker obtainable at City Hall.]  At a cost of $10 per person, I definitely thinks it's worth it.  As we were enjoying our birthday cakes, the special visitor arrived, and it was Cynthia Harris.  The birthday girl had invited her to the celebration, and she had accepted the invitation, so it was really great to see her there and be able to speak to her for a few minutes.  She made her way to everyone at the birthday celebration and was signing autographs and having her picture taken for quite some time, and as I understand it, even sang "Happy Birthday" to the birthday girl.  I thought it was really nice for her to have come.


Once the festivities were over, I bid goodbye to everyone and went on my way.  I'd been wanting to see More Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln again but hadn't had the chance so headed that way.  I'd forgotten until I got to the theatre and heard a CM mention it that it had been the previous July 17 when the new Great Moments show debuted.  I really miss the old show, which I liked a lot and saw on a regular basis.  This was only the third or so time that I'd seen the new show in the year since its debut.  I think it's far inferior to the previous show and conveys much less of the emotion and impact of the previous show.  I also particularly dislike the "parlour tricks" now employed in the show.  Some people have said that if the parlour tricks keeps people's attention, then they've done their job, but as far as I can tell, it keeps the people's attention on the parlour tricks and only the parlour tricks, not the rest of the message of the attraction.  As I walked into the theatre, I declined the headphones being offered to me, and the CM looked at me kind of strangely.  The only part of the show that I really like nowadays is Lincoln's final speech, and since the audio is broadcast (softly) in the theatre, I don't need the headphones for that.  I can do without having my hair cut, having a fly buzz me, and having Abraham Lincoln whispering in my ear.


When I exited the theatre, I returned the phone call of a friend, "R", who had called while I was inside.  He's a good friend from Sacramento who comes down on business on a regular basis, and he'd been able to get off work a bit earlier to join me at the resort.  R is particularly fond of the "Millionaire" game, especially since he won up to the polo shirt level on his last trip, and his 30 day waiting period was up, so he was eligible to win again.  He wanted to catch the 6pm show, so I met up with him outside of DCA, and we went in, got in the standby line and made it inside.  I do find the game amusing and fun, much more so than the tiny bit of the TV show that I've seen.  Our host was the same woman I've seen during my other visits, and I do think she does a good job, being entertaining and keeping the game moving.  We had a lot of fun during the game, and at the break point when they first check the board to see how the audience was doing, R was excited to see that he was third, but I was absolutely amazed to see that I was first!  I'm not usually very good at these types of trivia things, especially when it comes to Disney trivia, and I never figured to be anywhere in contention for this game, so I was especially pleased.  Of course, he and I then proceeded to tank on the next several questions, so at the next check of the boards, both he and I had dropped off the list, but I'm happy that I was at the top once.


When we left the theatre, I noticed that my husband had called, as he was to meet up with us after he got off work.  I called him back and the three of us discussed where to have dinner.  R suggested Plaza Inn, and that's where we were going to go, but I then asked R if he'd been to Catal or if he'd be interested.  He'd not been there before, so we arranged to have my husband meet us in the esplanade and we'd go so R could check out the menu.


Catal is one of my two favorite restaurants at the Disneyland Resort (Napa Rose being the other), and on my search for where to have lunch earlier in the day, I'd considered the downstairs Uva bar, which I really like, even though they've changed the menu from what I used to like even more.  In browsing the menu, I also glanced at the dinner menu and noticed that the night's special was the "Surf n' Turf", steak and lobster.  My husband and I had talked about coming on a night when he could have that, and I'm always up for Catal, so after checking with the person on duty that our favorite waiter, Ryan, was scheduled to work that night, I had thought maybe dinner there that evening would be a possibility.  I figured I could convince my husband to go there, but at the time, I didn't know if R was going to be joining us and didn't know if he'd want to go there.


After checking out the menu, R decided he wanted to try it, so we went upstairs.  I asked for us to be sat at one of Ryan's stations but was told by the hostess that he'd just gotten a couple of large tables and it would be a bit of a wait.  When I asked how long, she said about 15 minutes, which didn't seem a big deal, so we sat down to wait.  During our wait, Ryan walked by and saw us and said hi, and we told him we were waiting for one of his tables.  After about 30 minutes or so had gone by, we started getting a bit antsy and not knowing how much longer the wait would be, we had just decided to tell the hostess that we'd just go with another waiter when Ryan came up to us and said that one of his tables was ready to pay their bill and leave, so it would just be a few minutes.  So we waited a little bit longer and then were taken to our table.  We ended up sitting on the balcony, which overlooks that section of Downtown Disney.  In our previous visits to Catal, we'd never sat outside before, and we really enjoyed it.  On a nice summer evening, it was very comfortable sitting outside, watching the sky get darker and the lights in Downtown Disney come up and be able to hear the sounds rising up.  The atmosphere was just perfect.  As we perused the menu, Ryan mentioned that the menu had changed, as they were now on their summer menu.  In looking over the menu more closely, we indeed noticed that it was slightly different from our last trip.  Ryan pointed out one of the new items on the appetizer list - "spicy seared rare ahi tuna with avocado, pickled cucumber, tomato gazpacho and citrus croutons".  Ryan described the dish further to us and mentioned that the spice being used is something that one of the sous chefs had found in a little out-of-the-way shop, from an independent vendor.  They liked the spice a lot, but they've been unable to find that vendor again so for the moment, they figure they have enough of the spice to last the summer.  Based on Ryan's description, my husband and I decided to try it, and R ordered the Caesar salad.  The ahi was absolutely marvelous.  My husband and I are big sushi fans so the slightly cooked fish was very much to our liking.  The spicyness was really interesting in that it had very much of a kick to it, but it didn't deaden your taste buds as some do, and it had no lingering effects.  The added combination of the tomato gazpacho was really good as well.


For dinner, my husband did indeed order the Surf n' Turf, which he really enjoyed, and both R and I ordered the osso buco on creamy polenta with melted tomatoes and white truffle oil.  I'd known since my last visit that I'd be having osso buco on my next visit (and I know what I'm ordering on my next visit as well - highly unusual for me in that regard), and it's a dish that R particularly likes.  It was incredible.  The meat was very tender and tasty, and with three others of my favorite ingredients, I loved my meal.  R loved it as well and was raving about it for the rest of the evening.


Since we'd waited a while for our table, we were at the restaurant later than I'd anticipated.  I had figured we were going to return to DL to see Believe, but the three of us instead decided to finish off our meal with a leisurely dessert.  As much as I love Believe, I wasn't ready for dinner to be over.  When Ryan brought the dessert menus, we also noticed a few items that hadn't been on the list on our previous visit.  I am particularly enamoured of creme brulee, something I'd had for the first time on my first visit to Catal in May 2001.  I asked Ryan what the creme brulee flavors were that night, and he said they were vanilla, hazelnut and rose.  I asked what the rose was, and after a funny retort from Ryan, he confirmed that it was in fact the flower.  As on my previous visits, I decided to have the creme brulee, which I did really enjoy.  I wouldn't have been able to pick out that the one flavor was rose, but I did like it a lot.  R ordered the blackberry and lemon butter tart, which he liked.  He did say he would have preferred if it was a bit more lemony, which I agreed with when I tried a bit of it, but then I like real lemony flavor.  My husband ordered the chocolate mint mousse cake.  As both R and I tried it, we both had the same reaction that my husband did upon his first taste.  I do like mint ice cream, but I also am quite aware of the taste and texture of mint ice cream.  The incredible thing about this mint ice cream is that it tasted and felt like you were chewing on a mint leaf, even though you'd just put ice cream in your mouth.  It was an absolutely amazing feeling.  And tasty too!


Before dessert arrived, the executive chef, B, came out to say hello.  Because of a special dish that we'd ordered, Ryan had brought him out to meet us on our previous visit, and we'd found him to be very friendly and personable, and most of all, passionate about his creations.  Both R and I complimented him on the osso buco, which is his favorite dish.  We all also told him how much we enjoyed the ahi appetizer and in discussing the ingredients some more, B tossed out a few ideas for various other dishes, as he'd done the previous time.  It's wonderful to listen to him talk about dishes because he shows such excitement about them that it's contagious.  I'm not particularly fond of cooked fish dishes, but after his description of one particular cooked fish entree, I'm actually considering ordering it on some future visit.  There were a few other ideas he threw out that we were interested in, so he said he might include them on the fall menu.  (The restaurant has slight menu changes for each season.)  When we later asked R jokingly if he'd be interested in returning to Catal in the fall, he said he was interested in returning to Catal the following evening!  We thanked B for coming by our table.


Thoroughly satisfied, we settled our bill and paused to chat with Ryan a bit more.  This was our third visit with Ryan as our waiter, and Ryan is very attentive and knowledgeable about the restaurant's offerings as well as being very funny.  I would definitely recommend asking for Ryan on a visit, but we get first dibs if we're there at the same time!


We wandered back into DL and strolled around the park for an hour until the park's closing, did some last-minute shopping on Main Street and then finally headed out.


What a wonderful birthday.  Thanks, Disneyland.


For Catal's current dinner menu offerings, please click here.


For coverage of Disneyland's 47th birthday ceremony by LaughingPlace.com, please click here.


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